Bangkok: Stocks in Asia were mixed following a retreat on Wall Street on Wednesday, as the staggering toll exacted by Japan’s worst-ever earthquake came into sharper focus and uncertainties grew about the outcome of Western military action against Libya.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 slid 1.2% in early trading to 9,496.21 after a strong day of gains after a newspaper reported that government estimates of damages from the catastrophic 11 March earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s industrial northeast could exceed $300 billion.
The disaster also triggered a crisis at a nuclear power plant that forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and forced power cuts due to the shutdown of 11 of Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants.
Three of the country’s biggest brands — Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Sony Corp. — put off a return to normal production due to shortages of parts and raw materials because of earthquake damage to factories in affected areas.
Toyota and Honda said they would extend a shutdown of auto production in Japan that already is in its second week, while Sony said it was suspending some manufacturing of popular consumer electronics such as digital cameras and TVs.
The production slowdowns hit their stock prices: Toyota drooped 1.5%; Honda was down 1.4%, and Sony lost 0.8%. Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi index was up 0.1% to 2,016.35, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dropped 0.3% to 22,798.01.
Meanwhile, investors had a separate worry: the crisis in Libya and the real possibility that Moammar Gadhafi could stave off military action by Western powers intended to keep Gadhafi from overwhelming rebel forces trying to end his four-decade rule.
Oil prices hovered near $105 a barrel on Wednesday in Asia as violent uprisings in the Middle East kept traders nervous about possible crude supply disruptions.
Opec-member Libya, which produces enough oil to meet nearly 2% of world demand, has almost totally stopped shipping it. On Wall Street, stocks edged lower Tuesday, ending a three-day rally that had lifted the Dow Jones industrial average above 12,000 for the first time since an earthquake hit Japan more than a week ago.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 17.90 points to close at 12,018.63. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 4.61, or 0.4%, to 1,293.77. The Nasdaq composite index fell 8.22, or 0.3%, to 2,683.87.
In currencies, the euro dropped to $1.4169 from $1.4207 late Tuesday in New York. The yen was unchanged against the greenback at 80.90.